Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New Life, New Site, New Start




 I've set up a new home online. In other words... I don't live here at Blogger anymore. After years and years, I find myself a little bit sniffly about it. But, I have a new life, and now it's time for a new site.

www.elizabeth-harrell.com

I hope you'll all follow me to my new place. I've loved writing for, and with, you all.

Hugs,
Liz

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Alone




I remember the first time I felt true, deep, dark, heartbreaking loneliness.

It was when Jane was about two months old. She had acid reflux as a baby, and it was nightmarish. No amount of book reading or advice taking could have prepared me for what those months were like.

I remember sitting up with her in my bedroom, and it was about 2 a.m. Every single night that's where we were, just the two of us, like bats who never slept. I sat in the center of the bed and rocked her back and forth while she screamed and I cried. No one was there. No one knew.

I always kept the TV on, the Hallmark channel to be exact. They played reruns of I Love Lucy all night long. I also kept all the lights on. Somehow it helped me, that even though I was so alone, and so defeated, at least we weren't sitting in the dark. I wanted to pretend that someone else was there with me. Sort of. Almost.

I remember holding Jane, helpless to stem the screaming, and watching Lucy dance in a vat of grapes silently. And I thought to myself, "I'm totally alone." In fact, I said it out loud.

Not alone like sitting on a hiking trail, enjoying the sounds of birds or smelling distant campfires and taking a deep breath. Not alone like a late night with a glass of wine and your favorite book. But alone. All alone deep down in my heart.  And no amount of Lucy reruns or lit lamps changed it.

It was a revelation that culminated from years of being alone, capped off by a sick baby and extreme sleep deprivation. And not surprisingly, postpartum depression followed quickly behind.

Thankfully that's all in the past. I'm happy and healthy now, and very much not alone anymore, but you never  forget what being truly alone feels like. And my friends, over time, it will break you.

I've read several things written about Robin Williams this week. Some were very sweet. Others startling unsympathetic. One person even wrote,"It was his choice."

I will never forget that night with Lucy. I will never forget what feeling truly alone was like. And I can promise you, in his last moments on earth, Robin Williams felt utterly and completely alone.

There is nothing worse.

When you read about the last night before the crucifixion, you see Jesus' utter and total desolating isolation. You also find it in the shortest verse in the entire Bible.

"Jesus wept."

He fully grasped what it meant to be back-breakingly, soul-shredding, bottomless-pit alone.

It can take even the strongest of us to our knees.

I hope for those of you who haven't experienced depression, you'll take a step back and realize that it deserves your compassion. And perhaps on that particular topic, if it's something you don't know anything about, you should invoke your right to be silent.

And for Robin, wherever you are, I hope you've found a big, giant, beautiful, grand, peaceful place where all the lights are on, I Love Lucy makes everyone laugh, and you never cry, or feel alone, ever again.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You Show Up

There are all kinds of phrases Christians use with the ease of swiping an American Express at Target.

Let go and let God.

God never gives us more than we can handle.

God doesn't make mistakes.

When God closes a door, He opens a window.

I'm pretty sure we can all agree that when we're sick, or mourning, or worried, those little cliches are about as comforting as a sharp poke to the eye.

But this is what I've heard the most in the last few months. And sadly, the phrase that sometimes meant the least is, "I will pray for you."

I'm all for prayer. By all means, pray for me. Or wish me love. Or good thoughts. I don't think a person should ever reject positive love and energy from another, in whatever way they choose to believe or send it. Period. Don't like the pope and think rosary beads are weird? Fair enough. Don't believe in karma or good energy? Fine. But if someone offers it to you, and it means something to them? And it's genuine? I don't know about you, but I'm gonna hug and thank them.

But prayer that comes from someone who genuinely loves you and is involved in your life? Those are the prayers that get you through the dark times.

We humans really, really like to say "I'll pray for you." And throw me in the lion's den with all the rest, cause I've said it flippantly too. Sometimes I didn't really pray at all. Sometimes I just said it because things were awkward and I didn't know what else to say. And then afterward I went through the drive through at McDonald's and got involved in my own life crises and never uttered one prayer.

People also like to say "I'll pray for you" to make themselves feel better. It's what they're brought up to do. It's what makes them a good person right? They go to church and they pray and they check off a box on their list.

And then sometimes we pray for others that they'll become what we think they should become. We project our religion on them. We pray they'll see the light and become converted. We don't pray that they get a better job, or are surrounded with peace in their lives, or any of the other wonderful things we could pray for. We pray that they'll join a church. And pray just like we do, dress just like we do, sit in a pew just like we do.

"I'll pray for you."

It's a loaded gun.

I've heard it a lot these past few months.

But do you know what really counts?

Do you know how you actually make a difference in someone's life?

It's not rocket science. It's super easy.

You show up.

That's it.

That is a true prayer.

You don't say it. You don't give lip service.

You show up.

You don't even have to speak.

And for most of us, sometimes it's better when we don't.

You sit next to them while they cry.

You bring coffee.

You listen to them while they rant.

You unpack boxes in their new house.

You feed them dinner.

You buy them the a giant lime green Buddha as a house warming present.

(I'm looking at you KJC)

These are the things friends have done for me.. and they were the sweetest prayers of all.

Now obviously, not everyone can physically show up. If my sister in China gets really sick, or my sister in Michigan has a job crisis, I can't exactly bring over some fresh flowers and a chocolate cake (which I would like to submit is the nicest possible thing you can do for another woman). But you can bet your bottom dollar I'll be praying. But I'll also be calling. Or texting. Or posting ridiculous memes from Pinterest on their Facebook walls to make them smile (like this one, it works every time).

But I will say this. When you send your emails, or texts, or make your phone calls, people can sense sincerity. A short email and then silence? A rushed phone call? A couple of texts over a few weeks and then nothing? If those were the "prayers" I offered my friends and loved ones, they would smell the insincerity and lack of effort like the city dump five miles from my house.

When Angela was dying I noticed something very prevalent in my fellow humans. Someone else's life crisis makes some of us really uncomfortable. Why? Because deep down we think, "What about me?"

"What about me? What if I got cancer?"

"What about me? What if I lost my job?"

"What about me? What if my marriage ended?"

And I think that's natural.

Don't you?

That natural internal introspection?

The unintentional projection?

But it freezes us up. It makes us bail and avoid and take a step back, but not before we say the all important, "I'll pray for you." But we said it, right? We said what we thought we were supposed to say so that makes us feel better, right? That means we did the right thing, right?

Nope. It means we dropped the ball. Big time.

Today, right now, I am at peace. No knots in my stomach. No tightness in my chest. No feelings of sadness and inadequacy. I am truly, wonderfully, blessedly happy. I'm not writing this out of a hurting place, or a needing place. I'm doing A-Okay these days. The crisis is passing. The clouds are lifting. Jane and I are doing great. And I am incredibly thankful for the people in my life who actually showed up. Some folks I expected to be there for me in a crisis, and then there were the ones I didn't expect, the ones who completely blew me away with their thoughtfulness.

But I have recently been through a very hard time, when these were very real experiences for me. And plenty of people need the reminder. Because all the "I'll pray for you's" that get casually thrown around? They might be doing more damage than good.

Maybe next time, for me or someone else, instead of saying you'll pray, or talking about prayer, say your prayer and then do something.

Just. Show. Up.

It's the most precious prayer you can ever offer.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Most Sweat Inducing Time of the Year







August in Arkansas. 

It's sweat running down your spinal column, instant dehydration and constantly feeling as if your body will spontaneously combust. For years this has been my least favorite month of the year. It's like a giant blistering road block on the way to my favorite month of all time EVER, October. 

But this year I have an apartment with an air conditioner intent on impressing me with its ability to render me frozen solid (which I appreciate). There's fresh peaches from the Farmer's Market. And there's a glorious bright blue pool within steps of my front door. 

I swim as often as I can. At first it was just because of the heat. Now it's because I love it. Laps back and forth, locust singing in the trees above. I have arm muscles again. Swimming is a different kind of strong than gym workouts and treadmill sweating. It's therapy. Every night I got to bed pleasantly sore and my mind is peaceful.

In other news, I spent last Saturday shopping for a dress to go to a wedding. It was not fun. I'm convinced most designers wouldn't know a real woman's shape even if they got hip checked by Beyonce. But, in the midst of my sweaty, small dressing room, stuck zipper hell, I overheard a mother-daughter conversation that will not soon be forgotten.

 And suddenly my August was made.

Daughter: That dress is pretty on you.

Mother: No, it's not, I want something that shows off my girls.

Daughter: Please stop squeezing your breasts together like that.

Mother: I paid a lot for the twins, I ain't hiding them.

Daughter: I'll be in the car.




Friday, August 1, 2014

And Then One Day I Cooked Again






When I first started out as an adult, I was the cook. I experimented. I made funky 1950's casseroles with asparagus and eggs and cheese. Laugh if you will, but those  Mad Men casseroles were pretty darn good. Of course, these recipes existed in a world before the concept of Weight Watchers happened. Eat enough of those mid-century dishes and you'll find yourself in an embarrassing jean rivet popping situation.

All that to say, briefly, I cooked. I might not have been great at it, but I enjoyed it. I had a little kitchen at the back of a cottage with mushroom wallpaper and heavy oak cabinets. The window overlooked a car dealership, which was originally a church, which was a hop skip and jump from the university I worked for. It was a crazy mish-mash little house and I burned candles in it, cleaned it, and watched the seasons change outside that window. I baked cookies (albeit usually a disaster). I made cakes and was usually content to bake some chicken and make a salad. But I was preparing food, and I found joy in it.

And then, things changed. It was easier to smile and laugh and shrug and say, "Yep, I'm not much of a cook."

 It was another one of the many masks I allowed myself to smother under.

All these years later, I find myself starting over. I find myself walking up and down the aisle at the grocery story. Giddy. Ecstatic. 

"Oooh! Look at those heirloom tomatoes. They're purple with green stripes!"

"Oooh! Tarragon! I love that stuff. Next year I'll grow it on my patio."

"Oooh! I'll make meatloaf tonight, and maybe I'll use a little rosemary."

I'll be the first to say I'm a simple cook. I don't do fancy. I do healthy, comforting, and at the end of a long work day with a grumpy toddler in tow, easy. I like soup in the winter, and fresh salads in the summer. I want to learn to bake my own bread. When I'm alone at night I cut up cheese and grab some olives from the fridge, pour myself a glass of wine and call it a day. Even something as simple as that, as cutting up food and pouring wine and sitting alone on the living room floor, it's healing.

These days I put Jane in front of a coloring book, play music and work in my tiny little kitchen. Gone are the days of new beginnings and mushroom wallpaper, but I'm happy. I have cabinets full of things I can use. I have a fridge full of food that I bought, that I cooked, that I know about. It's so very simple. And so very basic. And so many people probably won't understand... but I've come back to life in my kitchen. The clank of the pots, the smell of fresh herbs, the chop chop chop on the cutting board. It helps me remember the girl in her mushroom kitchen, all 115 pounds of her, badly high lighted hair, and a blissed out heart full of hope for her future. 

I lost her for a very long time. But she's coming back, little by little, with the help of basil, and fried chicken, and salads, and yes, even badly baked cookies.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Great Social Media Cut



So lately, you guys, lately it's been a bit crazy. I've been amazed at how deep the post-divorce scrutiny has been. I mean, I like to think I'm interesting and all... but not this interesting. The gossip. The texts to my close friends asking questions about me (not directly to me, never directly), has been ridiculous. The online stalking. I mean, COME ON.

I keep hearing my late Uncle Trent's words in my head.

"Some people don't have anything better to do than sit around and pick lint out of their belly buttons."

And it makes me cranky. Because I love blogging. And I love being a writer. I love my Facebook account, and Instagram is fun. But I do not like feeling like I'm a side show. I don't like feeling like my real life, in all it's painful glory lately, is some sort of reality sitcom to be watched and critiqued.

It's hurtful. 

Actually, it kind of makes me want to set my hair on fire and beat it out with a golf shoe.

I understand that a lot of the ugliness and rumors and conjecture stems from the fact that I have been close mouthed as to the reasons I chose to leave my marriage. I don't regret that. I love my daughter with all my heart, and I never want her to read bitter diatribes online, or hear hurtful things around this small (and getting smaller by the day) town that can be linked back to me.

I wish I could say she'll never have to encounter that, but sadly, there has been plenty said about her mother.And to all of you who have said it, or perpetuated it? Shame on you. My sweet Jane deserves better than to grow up in a place where her elementary school class mates may tease or taunt her with false things they've heard about her mother. So again. Shame on you.

However, I will say, when a woman takes her child, leaves her house, her church, and her dog after 13 years... she has darn good reasons. My family, all devout members of the Church of Christ, know all my reasons and support me completely. But it's this lack of information that has somehow allowed rumors and ugliness to run amock. 

So I made a decision. I cut way, way back on my followers on Instagram and Facebook. I've limited it to people I know well, have known a long time, and those that are intimately involved in my day to day life and have Jane and my best interests at heart. I realize this will cause a scuffle.

"What does she have to hide?"

Nothing, I just don't know you who you are.

Nothing, I do know you, but not well enough to share everything with you on demand.

Nothing, I do know you, and we both know you don't deserve ring side seats to my every day life because you've kind of been a stinky person.

Am I cranky pants much? Yep. But you know something? It's been a long time coming. I get to stick up for myself. I get to set boundaries that make me comfortable. I get to be a cranky pants. I get to decide when and where people get access to my life. I think those of us who have been blogging a long time feel pressure and obligation where we shouldn't. 

Yes, we share. 

But it should always, ALWAYS be on our own terms and in our own time.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feeling the Feelings

















When you go through a divorce, it's a lot of loss, more than can be counted on both hands some days. Memories. Dreams. Friends. Faith. Things you thought were true turn out to be false. Things you thought were false turn out to be true.

Lately I've hit a turning point. Instead of dwelling on the hurt, I've been able to dwell on the gain. 

First and foremost, I've gained the time to focus on Jane and put her first. We've gained time spending nights putting together her puzzles, or swimming in the pool, or taking road trips. Time lying in bed with her when the light outside turns purple, talking about her friends at school or giving each other Eskimo kisses. 

I've gained friends, really loyal friends that genuinely care for me and my daughter. And while I've lost friends, in some ways, even while painful, it's a bittersweet gain. Situations like this have the ability to cull people from your life that weren't perhaps the close friends you thought they were. And I've cried over that, but I'm also okay with it. 

I've gained self esteem. I no longer spend minutes and hours and days trying to figure out what I could change about myself to be more attractive, or more fun, or just... more. I've gained the ability to look in the mirror in the morning, frizzy hair and eye circles staring back at me, and think, "I'm okay just like I am."

I've weaned off my antidepressants. In some ways it's disconcerting, because there are days where I think "I FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS." But then I realize that when you don't feel feelings, you don't really live. And in order to cope in my past, I had to not feel the feelings, because for so long the feelings crushed and hurt and confused me past the point of coping. That isn't to say antidepressants aren't important, and vital when needed. They absolutely are, and if I needed them again I would not bat an eyelash.

But I've realized that my depression and anxiety were a long, long time coming, and a result of repressing and not dealing with the big issues in my life. It's amazing how freeing it is when you finally do deal with them, and come to terms with reality. And then you realize that maybe feeling the feelings isn't so bad after all.

I've gained strength, and a voice, and the ability to carry forward in life with my chin up despite what others have said, or assumed, or heard, about me. It's not easy in this small town (and boy does it ever get small when something like this happens), but I'm doing it. I've tried my hardest not to fuel the fire. I'll continue to do so, but I've also gained the ability to no longer feel responsible for the burden of secrets that aren't mine.

I'm thankful, beyond thankful, for these "gains." I'm thankful to be a better mother, and be fully myself for the first time in a very long time. I'm thankful every morning when I wake up and see the sun patterns on the ceiling of my bedroom, and take a big deep breath and know that everything is getting better. 

I'm thankful for all the gains.

I'm thankful to feel the feelings again.